The last of my top fives for a while, this concerns what I consider the television highlights for 2009. Unlike film, it's impossible to come close to watching everything that comes on, so this list is by no means definitive. My only rule for doing this was that the show must have been broadcast somewhere on British television this year. As such, I've had to include one honourable mention below for a show broadcast in America this year, but which has still not been picked up beyond its first season by any network in the UK.
I think it's also worth mentioning my biggest disappointment for the year: and that's the final season of Battlestar Galactica. At the start of last year this would have been top of a hypothetical Most Anticipated Shows of 2009 list. And, while I enjoyed it fine at the time, over the year I've come to appreciate just how big a disappointment the finale was. It failed to adequately answer a lot of questions, and threw away important themes that had been set-up through out its previous seasons. However, my disappointment for the finale and season can be adequately summed up with one word: Starbuck.
Anyway, enough with the negatives, let's talk about the positives:
Friday Night Lights: Season 3 (DVD: Region 1 only)
Not only has this not been broadcast in the UK, only season 1 of it is available on Region 2 DVD. Such is my love of the show, I've imported the last two seasons from America in order to watch it. It's such a pity so few people watch this show. I actually think this will be a show people discover over time, and hope it gets the audience it deserves as word gets around about it over time. (Much like that HBO show based in Baltimore). Season 3 was the end of an era, as most of the characters we've come to love were graduating high school. This season was, in my opinion, the best so far, as the audience and writers know all the characters so well the storylines really hit home. Tyra's arc this season (and in the series as a whole) was a real highlight for me: summed up by my tears of joy/sadness/emotion when she writes her application letter for college. The season ended on an unexpected cliff-hanger, which I'm certain will give the show a great lease of life when it returns.
5. Torchwood: Children of the Earth (BBC 1)
Torchwood finally reached its potential with this 5 episode mini-series. Season 1 started poorly, but picked up a little towards the end. Season 2 understood better that making an 'adult' version of Doctor Who doesn't mean having to have lots of swearing and sex. This story gave it the room to come up with the kind of haunting, bleak story Doctor Who could never attempt. A brilliantly paced story with a great mix of action, horror and drama. I hope they can continue that kind of form when it returns for a full season, presumably at the end of this year.
4. Mad Men Season 2 (BBC 4)
An incredibly well-written show which can so much with so little. It's hard to describe why a show about an advertising agency in the 60s is so watchable. Perhaps it's because the characters constantly surprise you without acting "out of character". An episode can give you just one scene with a character that totally changes the view you've had of them for the past two seasons. (One scene from The Golden Violin comes to mind). If you're a fan of shows like The West Wing and The Wire you should definitely check it out.
3. Lost - Season 5 (Sky One)
(Spoilers for the end of Season 4)
The show that never stops getting stranger. This season our lostees were not only lost on an island but lost in time. It's crazy that they never introduced us to the time-travelling elements of this show, but thankfully the writers have taught us to expect the unexpected and I feel as though these elements really paid off. The Variable, my personal fave, summed up how well the writers could use this new dimension to create great moments of drama. As normal, the season ended on a cliff-hanger. Only this one is so big, I literally have no idea what season 6 will be about. It starts again in about four weeks and I can't wait.
2. Dollhouse - Seasons 1 & 2 (Sci-Fi UK)
(Spoilers for season 1 ahead)
It's strange to think that a year ago, I hadn't even seen one episode of this show. Like Torchwood (and Buffy and Firefly) it got off to a shaky start. The procedural nature of the early episodes not suiting the stories its creator, Joss Whedon, has become known for. Since about half-way through the first season, however, its become an incredible show. Not least because of the ground-breaking Epitaph One: which showed us a startling version of the not-so-distant-future our protagonists helped create. That episode has really propelled the second season of the show, where we see the characters make the seemingly innocuous choices that will lead to the end of civilisation as they know it. A show which really rewards second viewing since the writers sow a lot of seeds early on that they pay off later. Like Firefly, I think this will be a show only appreciated after it has stopped airing at the end of this month.
1. The Thick of It - Season 3 (BBC 2)
I had heard the The Thick of It was really worth watching, but just never got round to watching it. So when the film In the Loop, which is based on the series came out, I thought I'd better check it out. I wasn't disappointed. Its blend of political satire, awkwardness and strangely poetic swearing won my over. So much so, that the film is definitely my favourite comedy of 2009. The third season started in October, and I wish I'd watched from the start. In the age of MPs expenses, its dark take on the inner workings of politics feels all the more pertinent. The episode where they appear on Five Live was a personal favourite: with joy turning to anguish and back to joy for the two parties and their MPs at every turn. When Tucker and his Conservative rival clash at the end, the blend of machoism and insecurity was one of the best written pieces of drama I've seen. That scene superbly sums up why the show works: despite big personas, the characters are written as real people, meaning the dramatic moments hit home just as well as the comedic ones.
Oh and if you're interested my top five most anticipated shows of 2009 would be:
5. Breaking Bad (Seasons 1&2 - I've yet to see either)
3. Doctor Who
2. The Pacific